The Confluence Part 9

July 29th, 2011 by Wordsman

“A charging rhino may be felled by even the smallest pebble.”

Were these the words of Aristotle?  Confucius?  Locke?  Or was it just one of those perplexing fortune cookie messages, the kind where you stare blankly at it for a few seconds while you try to figure out if it’s a good fortune or a bad one.  And then you throw it away because it’s not funny when you add “in bed” to the end.

Whatever their origin, these words were not running through Peter Hamlin’s mind in the slightest.  He was focused on one thing only: forward motion.  He was not thinking about tiny pebbles.  He was not even thinking about larger, more boulder-like obstacles, of which there were more than a few between him and his destination.

The first was the stairs.  Despite living on the seventh floor, he decided to skip the elevator, because he was in no mood to stand around doing nothing.  Peter’s apartment complex had been constructed in the early 1970’s and was designed to withstand riots, tornadoes, alien invasions and the like.  The staircase, however, appeared to have been put together in the Dark Ages by a man (or possibly an even less efficient team of men) who had never seen stairs but had heard of them from a foreign guy he talked to in a bar once.  Because everybody took the elevator, management saw no need to update them with modern innovations, such as the ninety-degree angle.

But Peter flew down those stairs.  This description is especially apt because his feet actually spent more time in the air than they did in contact with the steps themselves.  In fact, considering the staircase’s less-than-admirable sturdiness, this may have been the safest method of descent.

The danger, however, did not stop there.  After exiting his building, he still had to cross the street.  He lived in an area that was outside the boundaries of true downtown, but all that meant was that cars could actually move instead of just sitting there waiting for the sun to die.  Rather than go out of his way to make use of the crosswalk, he simply dashed across directly from the building lobby—like all good citizens of Crescenton, he knew the golden rule of pedestrian street safety: “When you jaywalk, at least cars can only come at you from two directions.”  Of course, most people would still recommend that you look both ways first, but he did not have those milliseconds to spare.

Upon entering the station, he had another set of stairs to deal with.  The subway stairs were made of concrete and would probably still be there even if the city was bombed down to the ground, but that did not mean they were safe.  The lighting was poor, and things that were dropped or spilled had a tendency to stay there for weeks or even months.  One wrong step and you could lose a shoe, and then that would be the least of your problems.  The stalwart impenetrability of a concrete staircase is significantly less comforting when you are falling down it.

But he got past that too, again by relying primarily on the always dependable acceleration due to gravity.  Despite having been captain of the golf team—that’s right, the golf team—in high school, Peter was actually a fairly natural athlete; he simply didn’t have the right body type to really excel in a sport like basketball or football.  In a situation like this, however, he could cruise, turning corners with ease, racing past the coffee stands, and soaring over the turnstile as he leapt past (even though the subway was free, all stations still had turnstiles, after the Ohio State Supreme Court had ruled that depriving citizens of the chance to jump over them was “cruel and unusual punishment” in the case Oates v. Laragheny County Transit Authority).

As he got closer to the platform and could see that there was no train there at the moment, he began to relax.  He had done all he could.  Slowing down, he decided that he could finally risk losing a second or two to look at his watch.

Except he couldn’t.  Something was holding on to his arm.

See, if I was the rhino, I wouldn’t be looking out for pebbles.  I would keep my eyes peeled for the crafty, desperate lioness.

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This Day in History Entry #128

July 26th, 2011 by Wordsman

Though the war to an end had been brought
There were still battles left to be fought
An E.O. was released:
“In the army, at least
A man’s color don’t matter one jot!”

Event: Harry Truman signs Executive Order 9981, ending segregation in the U.S. Armed Forces
Year: 1948
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #63

July 25th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. アズカバンの囚人 B. 賢者の石 C. 死の秘宝 D. 謎のプリンス

E. 秘密の部屋 F. 不死鳥の騎士団 G. 炎のゴブレット

We hope that Theoman will be reassured to learn that KYPC is a place where ambition will always be rewarded.  Maybe not with money, or success, or some vague, incomprehensible point system, but it will be rewarded on some deep level.  That being said, let’s look at the results.  Overall he did well, getting five of the seven he attempted.  If we wanted to be mean and discount the answers containing katakana, which I believe he knows quite well, then he only gets two out of four.  But still: ambition!  It’s good . . . for some reason!

A Fan did well as well, though several of his answers could have applied to any number of books.  A, however, is Prisoner of Azkaban, which as far as I know has the same title on both sides of the pond.  “The one where Snape is mean to Harry” could be any book, except possibly the 7th, so his guess for B is technically correct as well–it’s the 1st, Sorcerer’s/Philospher’s Stone, the book in which we are introduced to the concept of Snape being mean to Harry.  “The one with snogging” could be Book 5, 6, or 7 (and possibly also 4), so he strikes again with C, Deathly Hallows.  We will skip over any potential arguments that D might raise about the greatest British fantasy author–other than to say that it is Half-Blood Prince (or, in Japanese, Mysterious Prince)–and note that while ambition is rewarded here, seriousness is not so much; A Fan’s one “real guess” fell flat, because E is Chamber of Secrets.  Personally, I think his guess for F was his best, both because it only refers to one book (at least in my opinion) and because it is correct: F is Order of the Phoenix, easily the too longest of the 7 books.  G, however, is neither the interesting nor the boring part of the last book.  It’s Goblet of Fire.

Shirley, unfortunately, had no correct answers, though it seems like she was on the right track.  The thing that she identified as a phoenix rising from the ashes in G is, I assume, the first character, which means “flame.”  E, all “buttoned down and locked up,” does contain the word “secret(s)”.  And we can’t blame her for mistaking “hallows” for “hollows,” because frankly I’m still not sure that “hallow” is a legitimate noun.  But she shouldn’t get too down; next week’s challenge may be a bit more up her alley.

Let it never be said that I do not give in to requests: the next challenge is on Victorian literature.  Try your luck with these works from the mid- to late 19th century: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and Great Expectations, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.  My apologies to any Anthony Trollope fans, but there is no Japanese Wikipedia article about him, which makes it difficult to look up the titles of his works.

A. 大いなる遺産 B. 虚栄の市 C. 荒涼館 D. ジェーン・エア

E. 宝島 F. 不思議の国のアリス


It would be a shame to just let all her hard work go to waste without getting a chance to poke fun at it, so let’s take a look.  Hmm . . . it appears her first guess is actually correct.  But of course there are kanji for “Azkaban.”  They look like this:


They mean “taking a bag into custody,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you could read them as azukaban . . . though I doubt any Japanese person would.  I like her reasoning for guessing that C is Order of the Phoenix, but apparently the worst title in Japanese doesn’t match the worst book (though if we accept A Fan’s division of Deathly Hallows, Part I: The Long Camping Trip (and more snogging), then maybe it does).  Her guess for D is also correct, and the character that she identified as being so complicated actually means “puzzle” or “riddle”.  I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out which character in F “looks like a dog” . . . maybe the third one, I guess, which is a bird.  A bird is also an animal, so it might seem that she is close, but that’s only if you think that birds look anything like dogs.  Do you?  Keep in mind that birds are more closely related to dinosaurs than they are to dogs, and if you take that into account, well, it’s just terrifying.  But Dragon finished strong, correctly picking out the middle book at the end of the list, and even using actual kanji knowledge–perhaps, one can imagine, gleaned from a previous KYPC encounter?–to solve the puzzle.  Bravo!

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The Confluence Part 8

July 22nd, 2011 by Wordsman

You might not think that being late to a meaningless job is anything to be concerned about.  This is probably because you do not know a few key facts about Alexander Abrahamson, Esq.

The first is that Mr. Abrahamson was a morning person.  He had been an early riser for as long as he or his parents could remember—in fact, some believed that he had actually once gotten up before 4 AM on purpose.  He was the first to the office in the morning, which his colleagues often thought meant that he simply loved work.  This was not true.  Mr. Abrahamson loved getting work out of the way; to him there was no better comfort than finishing everything you have to do for the day before the sun has even started to think about setting.

The second is that Mr. Abrahamson, in his role as official supervisor of the summer clerks, was responsible for finding a way to evaluate their performance.  How do you rate the work of those who don’t do any work?  There were many possible options, including interviews, exams, mock trials, and bribes, but all of these involved going down to the 12th floor and spending time with the clerks, time he could be using to get his own work done.  So Mr. Abrahamson chose a method of evaluation that could be gotten out of the way quickly and early in the day: punctuality.  If you were in the office by eight, you were alright in his book.

The third is that Mr. Abrahamson, despite possessing a grandfatherly demeanor, was not someone you wanted to upset.  These days he spent little time in the courtroom, but the other partners loved to tell stories about how he had been the most feared prosecutor in the city in his youth.  Mr. Wachowsky had once told Peter that he was nicknamed “The Floodbringer” because of his ability to reduce witnesses, from widows to lifetime thugs who cracked heads for the mob, to tears in cross-examination.  The combination of alcohol and a very thick accent might have caused Peter to doubt this statement if it hadn’t been immediately—and somewhat fearfully—confirmed by everyone else sitting at the bar.

Peter didn’t have to check his phone for messages to know that his carpool was long gone.  Calling them at this point would be pointless.  Downtown Crescenton was a tangled web of  one-way streets that seemed like they had been designed to confound invaders rather than promote the flow of traffic.  Trying to turn around during the morning rush hour was like trying to reverse the rotation of the Earth by tying one end of a rope to your waist, the other end to a rock, and pulling.  He would have been better off trying to walk, though he would have had to have been an Olympic sprinter to have a chance of getting there by 8:00 on foot.

Fortunately, Peter was not in any mood to sit around and lament his fate.  He was still fired up from giving the Speech.  It was time for action.  Consequences could be considered later.  Looking could be done after the leap.  He was going to do something he had never done before.

He was going to take the subway to work.

Peter dashed back to his bedroom, seized his briefcase—which contained two legal pads, one blank and one full of largely regrettable attempts to compose poetry on the subject of boredom—and was out the door an instant before the digital microwave clock flipped over to 7:49.  His alarm clock, meanwhile, was learning something that has been true since the time of the ancient Greeks: those who try to mess with fate inevitably (and often circuitously) become those who carry out its will.

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This Day in History Entry #127

July 19th, 2011 by Wordsman

Lucy Mott had it catch in her throat
She could not believe what Lizzie wrote
“This bit has got to go!”
Frederick Douglass said, “No
Women must demand their right to vote”

Event: Opening of the Seneca Falls Convention, an early convention in the fight for women’s rights (notable for its Declaration of Sentiments, which, among many other things, called for women’s suffrage)
Year: 1848
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #62

July 18th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 秋 B. 夏 C. 春 D. 冬

Shirley produced a quite interesting treatise in response to this week’s challenge, which I have decided to title, “Seasons, Scandinavians, and Insanity.”  For those of you who did not get a chance to read it, the work discusses cavorting at length and also refers to a mysterious substance known as “glug,” the consensus opinion of which seems to be that while one can drink it, such consumption is not recommended.  It also teaches some foreign language, and isn’t that what we’re all about here?  “Skoll” means “Here’s to you, kid,” which I assume is rather different from, “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”  By the way, the Japanese equivalent of “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid” is kimi no hitomi ni kanpai, which means roughly, “A toast to your eyes.”  Or, “A toast in your eyes.”  Particles can be confusing sometimes.

What’s that?  Answers?  What about answers?  I’m having fun here.

Oh, fine.

On the basis of general rowdiness, Shirley selected D as her eventual guess for summer.  This answer is correct . . . on opposite day.  D is winter, the time when all those Swedes–and possibly the occasional Japanese–are busy resting up so they can have enough energy to do all the things she mentions and hints at in her response.  A Fan is technically correct, I suppose, though if we were to uphold the spirit of competition, he settled on the same incorrect answer as Shirley.  But if we were to uphold the spirit of competition somewhat less stringently and allow second guesses, then he would be correct: B is summer.  In fact, the choices ended up going in reverse order: autumn, summer, spring, winter.

Here’s how you can remember them . . . at least if you know the meanings of some of the parts.  The right half of A means “fire”; in fall, the leaves turn the color(s) of fire.  The bottom part of B is the largest part of D, winter; summer crushes winter.  And then paper covers summer, and scissors cut paper.  The box at the bottom of C means “sun”; spring is when the sun comes out . . . except when it rains, which is all the time.  And finally, the two dots at the bottom of D also appear in the character meaning “cold”; winter is cold.  Though that doesn’t do you a lot of good unless you know that kanji.

I planned for that to make more sense in my head.

Anyway, it’s time to move on.  Speaking of moving on, the final movie in the Harry Potter series just came out, so millions of children (and childish adults) will have to come to grips with the fact that there will be no more, at least until Warner Bros. gets desperate and tries to crank out a prequel or something (I give it until about 2013).  So this week’s challenge is: identify the titles of the 7.5 Harry Potter books/movies.  Now, since every title comes in the form, “Harry Potter and the _____,” I won’t bother repeating the first part; you just get the blanks.  And just in case there’s someone out there who doesn’t know what goes in the blanks, your options are: Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows.  Those less familiar with the books may feel free to consult other sources for inspiration, so long as these sources are not Japanese.

A. アズカバンの囚人 B. 賢者の石 C. 死の秘宝 D. 謎のプリンス

E. 秘密の部屋 F. 不死鳥の騎士団 G. 炎のゴブレット

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The Confluence Part 7

July 15th, 2011 by Wordsman

His friends had all given up on the project, saying that it couldn’t be done, or that it was a waste of time, because even if you did come up with the perfect speech, what the heck would you use it for, anyway?

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

But Peter kept the dream alive. Every now and then, he would open his desk and pull out the stack of loose-leaf sheets he had been using to record the Speech since he was in high school. He would read it, cutting out a line here or adding one in there. Often he ended up undoing—and sometimes later redoing—changes he had made years earlier. Since he never gave the Speech in public, it was hard to tell what was an improvement and what wasn’t.

“Hear me for my cause; and be silent, that you may hear: believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honor, that you may believe: censure me in your wisdom; and awake your senses, that you may the better judge . . . no, that’s too wordy. Needs more punch . . . how about: The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones . . .”

Even Peter didn’t exactly “believe” in the Speech. He did it because it was good practice. As any good orator knows, it’s all in the delivery. The problem with the Shakespeare-Monkey-Typewriter Theory is that yes, given the random nature of the universe and an unlimited amount of time (and a plentiful supply of replacement monkeys), those thousand primates would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. But they would never be able to perform them. For the same reason, you could have the greatest speech in history in your hands, but if you didn’t know how to say it, you might as well be reading out of the phone book.

“I guess this is just another lost cause . . . All you people don’t know about lost causes . . . He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for, and he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them: Because of one plain simple rule: Love thy neighbor.”

As a matter of fact, this was the first time Peter had ever practiced the Speech before sunrise, and he read it at the same volume he always did, or maybe even louder, in his desperation to keep himself awake. Either way, his neighbors couldn’t have been too happy about it.

But that was only because they couldn’t make out the words through the wall. Though it may not have been the greatest in all of history, the Speech that Peter had cobbled together over the years was a damn fine one, and nobody knew how to read it like he did. If his neighbors had been able to hear it properly, they would have been mad, they would have been riled up, they would have been screaming for blood—but not his blood. They would have gone after whoever he pointed at.

“So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now, and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

It was so moving, in fact, that even Peter himself tended to get rather carried away when he was practicing it, especially near the end. He forgot himself, forgot what was going on around him, forgot everything except the task of delivering those words to his imaginary audience. He imagined he was up against the wall, trapped, surrounded by enemies on one side and the abyss on the other. But he would never give up.

“We shall go on to the end . . . we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!”

If the Speech had a weakness, however, it was length. He typically added more than he subtracted, and as a result it had grown to be more than three hours long. And once he had gotten a third of the way through, there was no stopping him until he reached the end. Even then he could not be reached by reality for at least of couple of minutes, as the awe of the Speech continued to wash over him.

When Peter regained his senses, he noticed two things. The first was that his neighbors—to the left, to the right, above and below—were pounding on the walls, floor, and ceiling. The second was that the microwave clock, which he just happened to be staring at, read 7:48.


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This Day in History Entry #126

July 12th, 2011 by Wordsman

Steven Dahl had a quite clever scheme
To take down the whole Disco regime
Fans with records took aim
The outfield turned to flame
Let’s just say: ’twas a little . . . extreme

Event: “Disco Demolition Night”: a promotion gets out of hand and fans storm the field, leading the Chicago White Sox to forfeit the game to the Detroit Tigers, the last game forfeited in this way in the American League
Year: 1979
Learn more:
See also:

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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #61

July 11th, 2011 by Wordsman

I’m not going to repost all the characters here, because man, that takes up a lot of space.

I expected people to get creative with the kanji I suggested.  I did not expect them to go quite as far as Shirley did, but I guess when you’re on a roll you can’t really stop yourself.  She proposed a description of fireworks rather than a word for fireworks, but if we were to take all the characters she referenced and smash them together, it would look something like this:


And if you wanted to try to pronounce all that–which I wouldn’t recommend–it might come out something like meikashoukuusaibakuraigoutenka.  With any luck, the fireworks really are as loud as thunder, so no one will be able to hear you.

Dragon demonstrated a little more restraint, proposing this word:


Which we could say as shoutenraika.

A Fan made use of components meaning sky, fire, explosion, and soar to create this:


And I’ll say that’s kuukabakushou.

No one’s a loser this time around.  Shirley’s is a little hard to judge, but as for the other two, I think I prefer the combination of meanings in Dragon’s “Soaring Heaven Thunder Flower” and the hypothetical pronunciation of A Fan’s kuukabakushou (gotta love those hard K’s).

But it seems that Theoman was the only one familiar with the “correct” answer–at least, he certainly wants us to think so.  If he had contributed this week, then, he probably would have written this:


This is the actual Japanese word for fireworks, or hanabi.


And now for the part that actually has right and wrong answers.  Dragon technically got one right, I suppose, though I’m pretty sure she made up at least one of those so-called shades of red.  A Fan should really review his colors of the rainbow (remember Roy G. Biv!), because, as a matter of fact, the colors are listed in that order, except that there is no kanji for the color orange and they are bookended by white on the left and black on the right.  This means that Shirley very nearly got them all right, correctly identifying white and simply reversing red and blue.  Her reference to “a lot of stuff” might suggest that she meant to write “sixth” instead of “fifth,” but here at KYPC we’re always . . . well, almost always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Here’s an easy one for next week; you’ve got a one-in-four shot.  See if you can pick out summer from this list of the four seasons.

A. 秋 B. 夏 C. 春 D. 冬

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The Confluence Part 6

July 8th, 2011 by Wordsman

As he had slept for less than five hours, it took Peter almost a full minute to figure out why it was so dark outside and why the clock on his microwave insisted it was not yet 4 AM. The spoon slowly descended, granting the Triple-Grain Honey Rings a reprieve as they rejoined their brethren in the bowl. Like the golden orb inching its way up past the horizon—something it was currently doing out in the Atlantic Ocean—a thought crept into his brain: “What do I do now?” It seemed more and more likely that the reprieve would become a full pardon.

A depressingly small number of ideas suggested themselves over the next ten minutes. Go back to bed? Tempting, oh so tempting, but impractical. He had already showered, he was already wearing his suit, he had already “made” breakfast—though at the rate he was eating it, he wouldn’t be done until dinner time. Peter didn’t think he could stand going through the painful ritual of waking up twice in one morning. Read a book? Watch a movie? These were simply code phrases for “go to sleep fifteen minutes from now rather than right away.” Catch up on work? He laughed. It was a harsh, gravelly sound. His voice cracked. Not good.

Peter shook his head. If he went back to sleep, then the clock would win. He wasn’t sure why, exactly, but if all that resulted from the early awakening was that he was robbed of half an hour of sleep, then victory was definitely on the side of the vile alarmbringer. Peter didn’t like to lose. He didn’t like being awake a four in the morning, either, but he especially didn’t like to lose. He was going to do something productive. He was going to work on the Speech.

With this thought in mind, he sprang—er, he lurched up out of his chair, put on a pot of coffee, and went to grab his notes. When he returned to the kitchen clutching a hefty stack of papers, he seized the pot and poured it directly into his cereal bowl. Not good.

“. . . because we’re panicking and he’s not. That’s why,” he muttered to himself, staring down at the soggy mess. He took a deep breath and hardened his gaze. “Now, we can get through this thing all right. We’ve got to stick together, though. We’ve got to have faith in each other!”

He snatched the spoon and shoveled the curious concoction into his mouth. The texture was awful and the taste was worse. But he ate another spoonful before flinging the utensil dramatically into the sink. He didn’t need food. He didn’t need caffeine. He was running on adrenaline now.

“Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives! But you’re gonna let it be the worst!”

The Speech was an idea that Peter and his debate team friends had cooked up back in high school. It was inspired by a dramatic win in the state tournament, a late-night victory party afterward, an unhealthy quantity of IBC Root Beer and a conversation about the theory that a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters could eventually reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare.

“—but he’ll remember, with advantages, what feats he did that day. Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words—”

The concept was simple: by combining lines from the most famous orations of history, literature, and film, one could create a speech so powerful, so moving that it could stir even the laziest, most apathetic slug to rise up.

“A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields when the age of Men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand!”

The execution, however, was considerably more difficult. The words of the world’s great speakers could not simply be slapped together like letters clipped from various magazines on a ransom note. How to integrate the words of Cicero with those of Mandela? Was it even possible to seamlessly blend the orations of Bismarck and Gandhi? Churchill and Pericles? Bailey and Blutarsky? Despite having nearly the same name, the speeches of Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. blended about as poorly as French Roast and breakfast cereal.

“The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

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